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  • When I was growing up, I was always attracted to "ephemera" - a specific sort of rubbish, but trash nonetheless. I would pick up bits of paper and things left by others and wonder why it wasn't thrown away. Business cards, flyers, religious and political literature. These are things some thought went into, and then are thrown away. On a long walk to the library as a young teen, I came across the remnants of some pornographic material. I could clearly see a women's breasts on the trashy paper lying in the road. Being a hormonal teenager, I wanted nothing more than to take a closer look, but stopping to pick it up would have been suspicious, as I was walking with others. I had to wait until we came back to that same spot to see that the smut had disappeared.

    People have always looked at me funny when I pick up the things others leave behind. Kahlil Gibran once wrote how trees are poems nature writes upon the sky, and that we cut them down to record our emptiness. It would seem people throw that emptiness away as it suits them, by the way we give no second thought to litter and the act of littering.

    Cleaning up at work one day, I came across a note one of my students had left behind. This student had ripped their shorts, could skateboard (and presumably dance), and had been in jail. The combination of these things had some random poignancy, and I saved the note. Why had they written it down? It was perhaps the shortest autobiography I'd seen.

    The students where I work are mostly inner city minority youth. They come to our after-school program as a way to keep busy, where we teach them media literacy and production skills. They learn about constructed representations, and I've seen how the stereotypes they're saddled with as black teens frustrates them. Each year, they go through a process of creating a documentary about community issues that matter to them. But my greatest hope is that they learn how they can redefine themselves through media.

    Whatever student wrote this note, I wondered why they chose these three details to describe themselves. I also wonder why they left it behind. I cleaned up the rest of our work area, and the rest of the day, my thoughts were with them.
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